AoC and more MMO fun

Ahh, another long, boring rambling post. I’ll definitely try to post some more interesting content and some more pretty pictures soon.

It may finally be time for me to move on from Age of Conan…

Being a fan of the Conan books, movies, comics, etc, I had been keeping an eye on it for a long time though I wasn’t completely enthralled until just a few months before release, after the initial, widely positive reviews of the PVP weekend event started pouring in. I ended up getting into open beta, preordering the collectors edition, and building a new PC in part in anticipation for the game, all in short order. I sought out and joined a PVP guild, who then settled on a server, and the next thing you know many of us were in the game together via the early access promotion days before launch. Things went relatively well at first – the only major hurdle thrown our way being the very, very late announcement that the server we had selected would be subjected to a special, more or less experimental even, set of PVP rules. There was a little bit of discussion but ultimately we decided to stick try it out and see how it went.

Despite all of the complaints waged against it, and the ones I myself are about to note, the game itself was more or less excellent at launch. The first 20 levels, heck, the first 30 or so, were pretty polished. The graphics were excellent, a vast majority of the zones, items, quests, and monsters seemed fine. Everything seemed fine. Sure, there certainly were complaints – client performance was apparently nonexistent for those on the lower end of the system requirements, there were tons of loading screens between areas with more sub-zoning and instancing than typical in an MMO, there were plenty of odd graphical bugs to go around, particularly concerning model clipping, but for the most part the pre-launch doom-sayers had been silenced.

But… That only lasted a few weeks.

It started to become apparent pretty quickly that there was more wrong with the game than as it first appeared. Even disregarding the silly ones (droves of WoW players who have never played any other MMOs wondering why this and that weren’t as they are in WoW, for instance) complaints were numerous and people started leaving in mass. Many of these complaints were quite valid, though I struggle to remember them all now, having not played the game in some time and many of them having been tweaked and fixed since then. Still, some that top my own list:

  • The multiple zones and instances annoy me, not because of the numerous load screens, but instead because of the loss of the feeling of persistence in the world. This is especially true when concerning guild cities. Instead of having guild claimed land scattered across the world, we have 3 instances, each one containing ONLY two cities, mirrored a hundred times. Pretty damn lame! In my opinion instanced housing really misses some of the best parts of the concept of MMO housing and AoC’s is about the worst example I’ve seen. It’d be much more interesting to have to claim a part of a leveling zone or even a much more developed housing zone where people might wander by and your guild’s presence would become an actual part of the world then it is to have the same exact boring plot of land as most other guilds which other players will only visit if they specifically want to. Total failure here.
  • Speaking of guild cities they’re totally sweet… and totally lame. You’re pretty much stuck with one, very limited template for how you want your city to be laid out. This isn’t Shadowbane’s city construction, that’s for sure. Also, at least last time I played around in one, buildings were quite limited in functionality – that is, they were hard to use as structures because they showed up as selectable targets rather than normal scenery, never mind numerous clipping problems and poor overall design. Hopefully these latter issues have been improved by now though.
  • Related to guild cities are the PVP battle keeps which are, as I understand it, surprisingly underwhelming. They’re basically just secondary, conquerable guild cities at the moment, and the whole system is amazingly poorly designed and even more horridly implemented. Very, very buggy and mass PVP is also apparently extremely laggy as well. This has been and will continue to be patched up, I’m sure. Still, this is one of those features that beta testers were sure wouldn’t be in the release game but Funcom insisted it would be… and they were right! But you don’t get too many more bonus points for including a broken, buggy system that is basically unusable than you do by simply leaving it out on my scorecard. Sorry.
  • A lot of people complain about the class balance in AoC. One of the most common complaints, however, tends to come from those coming from other MMOs who expect the stereotypical role based classes – you know: tank, close combat damage, long range damage, healer, buffer, and all that boring crap. I don’t have a problem with AoC’s less traditional classes myself, or, at least I wouldn’t if they’d do a better job balancing the damned things. Some of the classes are a lot more powerful than others, while some are much weaker than they should be. Don’t fret though, because just about all of them are broken in one way or another. For instance, back when I was playing heavily literally every class had feats (think “talents” WoW players!) that either didn’t work as described or simply didn’t work at all.
  • Speaking of broken stuff while gear having intentionally little overall effect is fine by me, when some of the stats and skill increases on these items simply don’t work at all you’ve got to take note. Oh, and skills were pretty humorous (and may still be) with players trying to guess which ones were worth putting points into or not because of what tiny effects most of them had, if any.
  • My biggest point of contention was no doubt the lack of good, consistent leveling content. I don’t know if the level progression simply wasn’t tested well enough, several zones ended up on the cutting room floor, the developers think grinding mobs is a lot of fun, or all of the above, but there simply isn’t enough single player content in the game to level smoothly with. After leaving the tutorial area Tortage you are whisked away to your race’s starting city and adjacent zone. There is plenty to do in most of these areas – quests of all kinds, lots of monsters to see, dungeons to run, in short they’re fairly well done. Soon though, you find yourself done with these zones and nowhere near high enough level to go to the next tier. Instead you have to either grind endlessly or go to other race’s starting zones and do all their now low level quests for more experience. This really weakens the appeal of rolling alts of other races by the way. This is just the start, however, as the last third or so of the game is even more devoid of quests yet unlike the lower levels there are no alternative zones to rely on at that point. I know not everyone feels this way but I pretty much despise pure grinding – nothing gets me bored quicker in an MMO!
  • Finally Funcom has been patching the hell out of the game but at a slower pace than I’d like, with little new content being added since launch. That, and some of the changes and fixes they’ve implemented have been a little heavy handed if not plain illogical. This seems like a good place to also mention the developers communication, like with most MMOs, is pretty unsatisfactory. There are few Funcom employees on the official forums making statements and when they do they’re usually not at all well-informed, patch notes leave out tons of changes, etc. Sadly enough, you know that drill by now if you’re an MMO player.

As for my story, I was enjoying myself pretty well until I got to a place right in the middle of the leveling treadmill, in which I could see the hardcore grind just over the next few levels and with Funcom’s announcement that there would be more leveling content and fixes added in July, decided to take a break until this new content had been delivered. Of course, we’re into early August now and I’m still waiting on some form of significant content patch. Typical and frustrating

In the meantime my guild also imploded – I could see that one coming from a mile away though. The guild was run by three brothers and their, I believe, uncle. The uncle pretty much ran things at first and was a nice, cool guy, if not a little bit naive in the ways of MMOs and guild leadership specifically. The 3 brothers on the other hand weren’t extremely vocal until one of them came out of the woodwork and basically took over. While this dude could be somewhat more abrassive the real shocker was when he took advantage of Funcom’s “hey, it’s an M rated game, we don’t need to moderate!” approach to running their forums and trolled like there was no tomorrow, absolutely stomping what little good reputation our quickly growing guild had in the mud, and gaining us all kinds of enemies in the process. Just what you need when you’re playing on a open PVP server in a game in which “rez killing” has been quickly perfected to an art form. Eventually people started to leave in droves for various reasons, mostly because of the state of the game, though some of our more influential members eventually left because of the aforementioned guild leadership problems. Eventually the forum trolling guild leader in question left the game and those who had flocked to him specifically were soon on their way out as well. In my absence the forums fell entirely silent and I was eventually kicked from the guild. Just today I found out that they merged with another guild and apparently just didn’t bother to tell anyone… *sigh*

I don’t know how long I can really justify keeping my subscription up or the game installed in order to wait for this fabled new content that we were promised. I haven’t played in over a month and while I’ve opened the client on occasion to keep it patched up I simply haven’t felt the urge to actually play… and that is a big problem. Still, I do have somewhat of an attachment to the game and don’t really want to let it go so soon. For all of the complaints I have there are plenty of things I do like about the game – the graphics, game world and lore, the more realistic design of the armor and weapons, the funky classes, the fast leveling, and the unique combat, for instance. If I do decide keep playing I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’d really like to reach level cap and I’d guess I could do it without too much effort but, if I do, I’d prefer to experience whatever new content they add rather than having to grind levels on killing mobs. If I do go back do I want to worry about dealing with all of the PVP madness without a guild having my back, or the trouble of finding a new guild, or should I just reroll on a PVE server and play solo until I’ve gotten my fill? Decisions, decisions.

Anyway, shifting gears, what inspired all of this Age of Conan talk was another MMO entirely. I had just completed watching the entire, extended edition of the Lord of The Rings movie trilogy and thought about how much I’d enjoy going back to try Lord of The Rings Online after not playing it since beta. I enjoyed it at the time and it certainly has gotten quite a lot of content patched in since then, including player housing and some other nifty things. It was fresh on my mind anyway because of the relatively recent announcement of its first expansion, The Mines of Moria, and a rather fetching new collectors edition which includes the original game as well. So, with this new boxed version in mind, I’ve decided I’d wait until it is released sometime later this year to go romping through Middle Earth again.

This whole LoTRO thing had me thinking about other MMOs I’ve yet to try and I soon remembered Tabula Rasa. TR has been a pretty big bomb from what I gather but a lot of people really like it and even many who do not have been impressed by its innovations in the genre. It is still alive and has apparently gotten quite a bit better since its initial release not even a year ago. I had been interested in it since it was first announced that Lord British was back on the scene and no one even had half a clue what TR would be but the first time I got really interested in it was only recently when the collectors edition of the game inexplicitly went on sale at Amazon for less than the price of the normal version, practically nothing, and tons of fence sitters started giving it a try. I had almost nabbed a copy myself but held off figuring the deal would stick around a while. Alas, I was wrong. Curious about its availability, I couldn’t find a cheap copy of the collector’s edition box anywhere until I hit eBay and found one exceptionally low priced and credible looking auction and couldn’t resist. So, it looks like Tabula Rasa is next in line for me!

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